MATCHUP TO WATCH
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy vs. 49ers left tackle Joe Staley
Even Carolina coach Ron Rivera says he addresses Hardy by his nickname, “Kraken,” a mythological sea monster that resembles a squid. And there probably have been times opponents felt Hardy was operating with more than two arms. The second-team All-Pro selection finished third in the NFL with 15 sacks. However, he had no sacks against Staley and the 49ers in Week 10 at Candlestick Park. One of the big differences between then and now is the 49ers will have a healthy Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis today. Still, Colin Kaepernick must have a clean pocket to take advantage of his full complement of weapons, and Staley’s success against Hardy will be key.
FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
• More than any other team, the Panthers rotate their defensive linemen to keep them fresh and aggressive. The 49ers must try to take the bite out of that approach by running the ball early, a tough task considering Carolina ranked second against the run this season.
• No running back has passed the 100-yard mark against the 49ers this season, and that streak must continue in Carolina. The 49ers’ best bet is to force Cam Newton to beat them through the air. He had his second-worst outing of the season against them in Week 10.
• LaMichael James’ long kickoff return in the fourth quarter helped set up a 49ers touchdown drive in Green Bay. Another strong outing from the return game would provide a needed boost to the offense, which is facing one of the toughest defenses in the league.
• Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey was in on only nine snaps against the Packers, but he figures to play the bulk of today’s game. He will be key in stopping the Panthers’ two-pronged rushing attack of DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. Carolina finished 11th in rushing offense this season.
• The 49ers need to attack the perimeter. They have improved on outside runs and wide receiver screens in recent weeks. Both take advantage of aggressive defenses and help clear space in the center of the field where Frank Gore likes to run.
DT Colin Cole (calf), WR Steve Smith (knee), RB Jonathan Stewart (knee)
GAME BY GAME
|Sept. 8||Green Bay||W, 34-28|
|Sept. 15||at Seattle||L, 29-3|
|Sept. 22||Indianapolis||L, 27-7|
|Sept. 26||at St. Louis||W, 35-11|
|Oct. 6||Houston||W, 34-3|
|Oct. 13||Arizona||W, 32-20|
|Oct. 20||at Tennessee||W, 31-17|
|Oct. 27||at Jacksonville||W, 42-10|
|Nov. 10||Carolina||L, 10-9|
|Nov. 17||at New Orleans||L, 23-20|
|Nov. 25||at Washington||W, 27-6|
|Dec. 1||St. Louis||W, 23-13|
|Dec. 8||Seattle||W, 19-17|
|Dec. 15||at Tampa Bay||W, 33-14|
|Dec. 23||Atlanta||W, 34-24|
|Dec. 29||at Arizona||W, 23-20|
|Jan. 5||at Green Bay||W, 23-20|
GAME BY GAME
|Sept. 8||Seattle||L, 12-7|
|Sept. 15||at Buffalo||L,24-23|
|Sept. 22||New York Giants||W, 38-0|
|Oct. 6||at Arizona||L, 22-6|
|Oct. 13||at Minnesota||W, 35-10|
|Oct. 20||St. Louis||W, 30-15|
|Oct. 24||at Tampa Bay||W, 31-13|
|Nov. 3||Atlanta||W, 34-10|
|Nov. 10||at 49ers||W, 10-9|
|Nov. 18||New England||W, 24-20|
|Nov. 24||at Miami||W, 20-16|
|Dec. 1||Tampa Bay||W, 27-6|
|Dec. 8||at New Orleans||L, 31-13|
|Dec. 15||New York Jets||W, 30-20|
|Dec. 22||New Orleans||W, 17-13|
|Dec. 29||at Atlanta||W, 21-20|